How to star in your own reality show: Cook more
Only 40 percent of American cooks at least 5 times a week, and 75 percent classify cooking as using frozen and prepared foods. Here are three reasons Americans should cook from scratch more, besides the fact that it's healthier and less expensive.
Here’s a holiday word problem: If the average Thanksgiving turkey weighed in at 16 lbs. this year, and Americans ate 48 million turkeys, how many pounds of turkey did we eat? I’ll accept the answers “an absurdly large amount,” “much more than I would have guessed,” or “768 million lbs.” And that's not counting all the fixings.Skip to next paragraph
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Two things strike me as remarkable about these very straightforward National Turkey Federation statistics. First, every one of those turkeys had to be cooked. Not microwaved. Or reheated. But actually cleaned, stuffed, rubbed, basted, and all those other cooking things most of us rarely do in everyday life. (A recent Harris poll found that only 40 percent of Americans cook at least five times a week, but 75 percent classify cooking as using frozen and prepared foods).
Second, Americans don’t particularly love turkey. In fact, I searched dozens of polls of America’s favorite foods and turkey didn’t crack the top 10 in any of them. When was the last time you roasted a whole turkey, even a small one, on a day that wasn’t the fourth Thursday in November? I rest my case.
So why does almost every American family, regardless of ethnic background, spend the day doing something they don’t particularly care for – cooking – to prepare a food they don’t particularly like?
You could argue that we continue to prepare the Thanksgiving turkey because of tradition or a sense of history or even out of habit, but I suspect the real answer goes deeper: I think Thanksgiving is a testament to our primal need to cook. You could argue that cooking is the activity that most defines us as humans. Other species also have language and can use some tools, but only humans can cook. I cook; therefore, I’m human.
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Another Thanksgiving fact: If you take away Christmas, Thanksgiving is far and away America’s favorite holiday. (And let’s face it, for lots of reasons, Christmas is in a class of its own). But Thanksgiving, with only its homely bird to offer beats out holidays with firework displays, tricks and treats, and green beer. Pretty impressive.
So if you buy my argument that a large part of the reason Americans love Thanksgiving is the cooking – the savory smells that fill the house, the simple foods transformed by love and attention into something sacred, you have to wonder why most of us spend a lot more time watching other people cook on TV than cooking ourselves. Why don’t more people do this most human of activities more often?
The obvious answer is that everyone’s busy. And while that’s true, the average American spends over 4 hours a day watching TV. So one way to cook more might be to watch less. That’s what I do. And when you consider a few of the things cooking has to offer, giving up another episode of House Hunters or a re-run of Seinfeld won’t seem like such a sacrifice.
Here are three reasons Americans should cook more, besides the fact that it’s healthier and less expensive.